THE PRESIDENT of COP26 has insisted that India and Chine will have to “explain themselves to the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world” for watering down coal commitment in the moments before the Glasgow Climate Pact was agreed.

Alok Sharma has insisted that the gathering on the banks of the Clyde had “kept 1.5C within reach”, despite India and China demanding the language in the agreement on fossil fuels and coal being downgraded.

The decision was criticised by several nations including Switzerland and several nations in the global south who are facing the front line of the impacts of the climate crisis.

The key aim of COP26 was to keep an ambition, signed up to in the Paris Agreement, of limiting global warming to 1.5C alive – beyond which the most extreme impacts of the climate crisis are expected to rapidly accelerate.

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Burning fossil fuels is the overwhelming contributor to rising global temperatures and the Glasgow Climate Pact is the first COP headline document to highlight the need to move away from burning coal, oil and gas.

The cover document was set to require countries to “accelerate efforts towards” a “phase out” unabated coal. But the late intervention from India, backed by China, changed the wording to “phase down coal”.

But the pact also called for an end to “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies and “recognises” the need to support workers in fossil fuels industries from finding alternative employment – known as a just transition.

Mr Sharma, a former UK Government business secretary, admitted that the final few hours had proved “emotional” after investing time into understanding the global impact of climate change over the past two years.

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Mr Sharma was close to tears on a couple of occasions during an hours-long final plenary, including as he apologised to delegates for the way a change to the pact’s wording on fossil fuels was brought about at the eleventh hour.

Mr Sharma said it was a “first” to have coal commitments written into a UN climate text but conceded that he had wanted the pledge to go further.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that China and India would have to “explain themselves” after representatives from countries most at risk of rising seas and changing weather patterns expressed “disappointment” on the floor of the summit at the move.

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He added that India and China, both big users of coal, will have to “explain themselves to the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world” for the last-gasp move.

Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme, Mr Sharma added: “Yes, of course I would have liked to ensure we maintain the ‘phase out’ rather than changing the wording to ‘phase down’, but on the way to phasing out, you’ve got to phase down.

“But, ultimately, of course, what we need to ensure is that we continue to work on this deal, on these commitments, and on the issue of coal, China and India are going to have to justify to some of the most climate vulnerable countries what happened.”

Asked whether his emotional reaction to the change in language on coal was an admission of failure, Mr Sharma told the BBC: “I wouldn’t describe what we did yesterday as a failure – it is a historic achievement.”

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He hailed agreements for countries to revisit and strengthen their 2030 national climate action targets by the end of 2022 and for annual “high level” ministerial meetings on tackling emissions, as he urged for countries to be held “to account for the commitments that were made” in Glasgow.

But the final accord has come in for criticism, with shadow business and energy secretary Ed Miliband warning that “keeping 1.5 degrees alive is frankly in intensive care”, with a “chasm” between what was agreed in Scotland and what still needs to be done to slash emissions.

The former Labour leader told Trevor Phillips: “The task of the world is to halve global emissions over the coming decade, that’s by 2030, that’s what the scientists tell us is necessary to keep 1.5 degrees alive and the truth about Glasgow, despite some progress, is that the world is only probably about 20% or 25% of the way to that goal.”

The UN’s climate change chief Patricia Espinosa, however, backed Mr Sharma’s assessment of the conference, telling Andrew Marr the goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5C is “definitely alive” after the summit.

HeraldScotland: Patricia EspinosaPatricia Espinosa

The conference also secured agreement on finalising key parts of the “Paris rulebook”, on areas such as establishing carbon markets and transparency over the action countries are taking, which have been outstanding since the climate treaty was agreed in 2015.

The final decisions come after a fortnight of negotiations which began with 120 world leaders attending the summit.

A series of deals by countries and businesses on cutting methane emissions, curbing deforestation, switching to electric cars, driving investment in clean technology and phasing out coal power were announced alongside the formal negotiations, as part of efforts to drive “real-world” climate action.